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Resignation of Orchard Park cop could put cases in jeopardy

An Orchard Park Police officer recently resigned from her job after she allegedly signed her lieutenant’s name to a departmental report, and after questions arose about testimony she gave regarding a driving-while-intoxicated case.

The resignation of Officer Amy Pfeffer – an Iraq War veteran who joined the department two years ago after winning a “Top Cop” award with the Rochester Police Department – was confirmed Wednesday by Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III and several other sources.

The resignation prompted Sedita to send letters to 30 to 40 local defense lawyers, notifying them of Pfeffer’s resignation and possible credibility issues regarding arrests she has made, including many driving-while-intoxicated arrests.

“We have an ethical obligation to reach out to these defense attorneys who have cases involving her arrests ... to advise them of the situation,” Sedita said.

He said there is the potential for credibility issues to arise in upcoming cases in which Pfeffer could be called to testify about arrests she made.

“I can’t predict,” Sedita said. “It would depend upon the case, and what her role was in the case.”

Pfeffer, a Hilbert College graduate who is in her 30s, could not be reached to comment, and her union representative also could not be reached. Police Chief Mark Pacholec confirmed that Pfeffer is no longer with his department, but he said he could not discuss her reasons for leaving because it is “a personnel matter.”

In the letter the district attorney’s office sent to local defense attorneys, Sedita said he is aware of “two instances which reflect unfavorably on Ms. Pfeffer’s fitness to serve as a police officer. While I cannot state with certainty that any one of them led to her resignation ... I believe that each warrants disclosure to the defense bar.”

The first incident is a DWI case in which Pfeffer testified that “she observed the defendant’s vehicle leave a parking lot and then spin completely around 360 degrees,” Sedita wrote. “The defense attorneys produced a copy of video surveillance of the defendant’s car as it left the parking lot; while the car ‘fish-tailed’ it did not spin completely around as Ms. Pfeffer testified under oath.”

In a separate case, Pfeffer “signed without permission” the name of her lieutenant to a duplicate of a document filed with Orchard Park Police, Sedita added.

“This is serious business,” Sedita told The Buffalo News, but he added that he thinks Pfeffer’s actions resulted from “overzealous or sloppy” conduct rather than criminal conduct on her part.

Two local defense attorneys who received the letter from Sedita said Pfeffer was well known in Orchard Park as an aggressive officer who makes many DWI arrests by parking her police car near taverns and pulling drivers over after they left the premises.

“She was known as a very gung-ho officer who made a lot of arrests, sometimes questionable arrests,” said Robert N. Convissar, who oversees 320 local attorneys as chief defender and administrator of the Erie County Bar Association’s assigned counsel program.

“Based on the 15 to 20 cases I’ve had with her, mostly DWIs, I am not at all surprised” by the resignation, said James Quinn Auricchio, a West Seneca attorney who handles many DWIs and other criminal matters in Orchard Park and the Southtowns. “I felt like she was unreasonable, overly aggressive and she took liberty with the facts.”

Auricchio said that, with almost every case he had with Pfeffer, she would testify to details that his clients swore were untrue.

“Sometimes they were minor details, sometimes important,” said Auricchio, a former federal prosecutor.

Auricchio said it would be very disturbing to him if Pfeffer did forge her lieutenant’s name to any police document.

Situations like this one explain why so many people do not trust police officers, he said.

The attorney said “probably 75 percent” of the DWI cases in the Southtowns wind up with defendants taking guilty pleas, largely based on arrest reports filed by police.

“Because of instances like this, I have to closely scrutinize every detail of what an officer testifies to, or puts in a report,” Auricchio said. “Because of incidents like this, there are people who don’t trust police officers and use cellphones to show what police officers are doing.”

Convissar said that, in his view, it is too soon to tell whether any cases will be dropped, or any convictions will be overturned because of Pfeffer’s resignation.

Pacholec, the Orchard Park chief, declined to comment when asked whether he feels Pfeffer had done a good job since joining the department in July 2013. According to information released by the town when she was hired, she started with a salary of $56,885 because of her previous experience as a Rochester police officer.

According to an extensive article that appeared in 2010 in the Hilbert College Connections magazine, Pfeffer served in the Army National Guard and was sent to Iraq for duty at age 19. She spent 15 months in Iraq, and during that time, two soldiers in her unit were killed.

After serving as an intern with the U.S. Secret Service, Pfeffer joined the Rochester department, the Hilbert article said.

For 2009, she received the Rochester Police Department’s coveted “Top Cop” award after making 258 arrests that year, 50 more than any other officer in the department, the Hilbert article reported. She also was credited with helping to rescue a fellow officer who was shot in the head while investigating a call about drug activity.

When asked about the large number of arrests she made in Rochester, Pfeffer was quoted as saying she didn’t realize she had arrested so many people.

“My work ethic contributed,” she was quoted as saying. “I work hard every day.”